Truth be told, about 25 million Americans are affected by urinary incontinence (UI) but it’s rarely a topic of dinner conversations. While it won’t kill you, a leak here or there when you exercise, cough or maybe even laugh can make your life rather unpleasant. Yet, many cases of incontinence go undiagnosed and untreated because women and men don’t know how to approach the subject with their doctors.
The pervasive nature of this problem calls for some straight talk. Here, we address and dispel a few common assumptions regarding incontinence with the hope of empowering you to take charge of your bladder.
Myth: My mom says that after you have a baby, it’s normal to leak a little.
Childbirth is a traumatic event for your pelvic area that can cause pain and inhibit muscle function. When the pain subsides, the muscle function typically returns. But sometimes it is necessary to retrain the pelvic muscles that are weakened or stressed during delivery to spur them to work well again. All that may be needed are some focused exercises.
“I often encourage women to do Kegel exercises, the act of squeezing the muscles that are used to stop urination, but they work for men too,” according to physical therapist Reinier Botha of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne, who is specially trained in pelvic health. “When practiced regularly, these exercises can help retrain and strengthen the muscles around the bladder and in some cases can even reverse incontinence. Just be sure to discuss pelvic health physical therapy as an option with your doctor before undertaking a new routine. Weak muscles need exercise, but they can easily be over exercised and more harm than good may be done.”
Myth: Incontinence is a normal part of aging.
Although the risk of incontinence goes up as you age, and estrogen loss in women at menopause weakens pelvic muscles, anyone may experience symptoms at any time. Findings of the National Association for Continence suggest that 1 in 4 women over the age of 18 leak urine involuntarily, and one-third of men and women ages 30 to 70 have experienced bladder control loss at some point in time. But it doesn’t have to be the norm.
“Muscles are some of the most forgiving structures in the entire body,” said Botha. “When they are challenged and exercised, they get stronger — regardless of how old you are. Exercise is a good way to ward off incontinence and improve your quality of life.”
Myth: The only treatment for incontinence is surgery.
Medication and surgery aren’t the only available options. In addition to exercise, behavioral treatments and lifestyle modifications can be used to manage incontinence. Some websites, like WebMD, suggest that vitamin D and magnesium (either from food or dietary supplements) may be beneficial in improving UI. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking, caffeine and alcohol have also been shown to have a positive effect on incontinence.
If incontinence comes on gradually, the leakage may not be thought of as a medical problem. Women tend to associate symptoms with their menstrual period and use feminine hygiene products to control them. They don’t visit with their doctor until overactive bladder kicks in. Surgery may help relieve UI and an overactive bladder, but it also poses risks. For this reason, surgery should be reserved for both women and men who have tried other options without success. Often with careful assessment and treatment, incontinence can be dramatically improved or reversed.
Find a urologist, physical therapist or skilled medical provider to address your UI concerns, or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355) to schedule an appointment.